When Europe’s number one senior golfer Paul Wesselingh secured the John Jacobs Trophy for topping the European Senior Tour’s order of merit, it completed a remarkable journey: not just for the Derby-based professional, but also for John Letters, the brand he played on tour.
Wesselingh, 52, has effectively come from nowhere to be Europe’s top senior golfer, beating off the challenge of supposedly bigger names such as eight-time European Tour order-of-merit winner Colin Montgomerie, former Ryder Cup captains Sam Torrance and Mark James, and nearest challenger Steen Tinning, from Denmark.
The father-of-three left his post as head pro at KedlestonPark in February 2013, after gaining a full Tour card at his first attempt at QualifyingSchool and, subsequently, finishing as rookie of the year in his first year as a senior. In his second year – his first as a full-time playing professional – he stunned his rivals with four victories and another five top-10 finishes to secure the order-of-merit title.
It was a long way from the day back in the 1990s, when he eschewed a potential Tour career to remain at home with his family while earning a crust as a pro at Chorley GC.
He explained: “There were several reasons really, but the family was a major one. We’d had twins, which is obviously hard work – and then for me to go careering off all over the world and leave my wife with twins would have been wrong. We then had another young lad as well so with three young lads it wasn’t on. And, to be honest, I probably wasn’t good enough at that time so I just concentrated on being a club pro … but I still played a lot.”
Indeed he did. A regular in the regional PGA events in the Midland and, for a while, North regions, he also played in national events and PGA of Europe events. He played in the club professionals’ version of the Ryder Cup, the PGA Cup, on six successive occasions between 1998 and 2009 – a record since qualification became a requirement – and captained England in the European team championships on four occasions. It’s fair to say he was no slouch on the fairways.
He recalled: “As I played more and more, getting some success in the regions, winning order-of-merits and playing mini tours, I realised that my golf was improving. Mind you, I worked so hard at it. Running up to seniors from my mid-40s I started doing a lot of fitness work – biomechanics, biometrics, working with Ben Langdown in the PGA – and upped my playing as I got closer to 50. So when I hit 50 I felt I was ready and able to compete. I got my card at the first attempt coming second in the tour school but had a long wait until the first event.
“I qualified at the end of January and the first event wasn’t until the second week of May, so I was just making sure everything was right. I’ve always practised a lot. I played the first event in Mallorca and came second and that set it all off. That got me into the US Senior PGA Championship, where I finished 20th – my second event as a senior was a Major! I’d won the order of merit in the Midland region the year before which qualified me to play in the BMW PGA at Wentworth, the European Tour’s flagship event. But when I finished in Mallorca I was told I was playing in the US Senior PGA Championship; I said no I’m playing at Wentworth. It took me about 10 minutes and a couple of conversations with some of the Senior pros to decide to play in America instead of Wentworth.
“I then won the ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship, at Slaley Hall, in the second event after I came back from the States and it snowballed from there. I carried on playing well and eventually won rookie of the year for 2012.
“Last year I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I won my first event, defending the ISPS Handa, won two weeks after that and then the last two events – it was a crazy year. To win the overall order of merit the year after rookie of the year was a dream come true. My aim in 2012 was to stay in the top 30 and keep my card – but after I’d won it virtually guaranteed me a top-10 finish. It was just a case of how high I could go.”
In a refreshing, old-style, ‘gentleman’s agreement’, Wesselingh played with John Letters irons and wedges throughout his trophy-winning season, without the need to pen a ‘sponsorship’ deal with the historic Scottish brand.
He explained: “There was never a contract between us. I started using John Letters in 2012, halfway through the year, at Turnberry. I was using a set of blades I felt were getting too difficult to use and happened to see the John Letters guys on the practice area – and they were fantastic. They fitted me for a set and it was ready on the third day of the British Seniors at Turnberry, so I put them straight in my bag, used them in the last round and shot a 69! I was really pleased with that.
“From then on we worked closely together and I’ve played with them since. They’ve been fantastic and have really looked after me. During 2013 I went to see them a couple of times during the year and we sorted out the irons and used them all the way through the season.”
Launched in 1918 by its eponymous founder, John Letters was famed for its association with many of the world’s leading golfers including Bernard Gallacher, Dai Rees, Paul Lawrie, Fred Daly, Gary Player, Sam Torrance and Lee Trevino. But in 2005, with mass production of clubs by other manufacturers and an increase in imports from the Asian market, John Letters could not compete in its existing form and was placed in receivership. It was subsequently purchased by successful businessman and PGA professional John Andrew, who has succeeded in turning round the brand and once again placed it at the top of the tree.
Wesselingh added: “It’s a fantastic brand and a great company to work with. John Letters is a well-known name in golf – I used to use them years and years ago, when I was an assistant pro. I had great confidence in the equipment. The John Letters team worked very closely with me to ensure the equipment was right for me and I knew I could always go to them to have anything adjusted – but those irons really are very, very good.”
Liverpool-born Wesselingh – who was only the fifth Englishman to win the European Seniors Tour order of merit – has adjusted his aim for 2014, with his sights set on the season’s Majors.
He said: “This year I need to do better in the Majors. I missed the cut in two last year – having made the cut in both in my first year. The first event this year is a Major so I’m trying to find some other events to play in – perhaps out in the Far East – so I can be ‘course ready’.”
Rookie of the year in 2012, order-of-merit winner in 2013 … who would put it past Paul Wesselingh to add a seniors Major to his CV in 2014?
John Letters Golf Limited www.johnletters.com